In Punjabi, on both sides of the border, singing jugni is a special treat. Pakistani jugni is famous because of its exponent, Arif Lohar. In East Punjab, the latest name in jugni-singing is Rabbi Shergill. What is jugni? Most people I have quizzed seem unclear what jugni is.
Some naively say it means female firefly. Jugnu is presumably a male firefly, but why do girls end up being named Jugnu? This meaning is not good at explaining a genre of singing. Jugni is a presiding genius of sorts. But what explains its peripatetic or wandering nature?
Many of the songs contain the phrase, ‘ja wari’ (entered). You have ‘jugni ja wari Jalundhar’, ‘jugni ja wari Multan’, and even ‘jugni ja wari kalkattay’. Jugni travels, no doubt, and she seems to be bound to a travel itinerary.
One very interesting account explains this peripatetic genius of jugni. In 1889, India went through the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Queen of England’s rule. It was called jubilee celebration and it was a grassroots thing.
From reports, there was a flame that travelled. It was put in a big gold utensil and was taken to all the districts. It was called jugni from the ‘jgn’ root meaning light. This is the first sign of the meaning of jugni as ‘shining’. The travelling jubilee light was accompanied by police and army bands, by parading officials and zaildars, and the local elite. Jubilee was widely pronounced as ‘jubli’ which may have got its final shape as jugni when the singers started their routine.
Karamjit Singh Aujla writing in the Punjabi Tribune (September 24, 2005) had propounded the above theory about jugni as a tappa genre of singing. Was it taken from jubilee or the jubilee flame? The ‘jg’ root in Hindi stands for shining, burning and waking. The word for the ‘living’ planet is ‘jag’ (prjug) but there is also the ‘jug’ meaning ‘age’ or era.
If you take it to mean age or era, then jugni becomes the genius of the age or zeitgeist. The singer makes reference, not to a girl, but to the spirit of the times as also the spirit of the mystic that dominates the genius of Punjab.
Legend has it that two singers, Manda (Muslim) Bishna (Sikh), sang jugni during the Jubilee celebration in Gujranwala but the content of their jugni was treasonable and they were both killed by the police.
Pakistan’s authority on culture Uxi Mufti says (Daily Times, March 7, 2011) jugni is a song of mystical devotion which began in 1889 during the Jubilee celebrations in India. And jugni was the rebellious parallel to official occasion. One can revert to the etymology of the waking up sense (jaagna) contained in jugni and say that the name could be derived from the sense of making people wake up.
Or one can take the jug part as referring to the ages, there being four: Krita, or Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. It is also pronounced yug. In this sense, jugni is the spirit of the times. Indian filmstar couple Ajay Devgan and Kajol have named their new born son Yug. It is taken from the Sanskrit word ‘yug’, meaning life or being. It also means eternity or era.
The ‘living’ planet earth is called ‘jag’. It is a strange reference in Sanskrit to a place which contains life. In Persian, ‘zamin’ means solid as opposed to the sea which is liquid. In Arabic, ‘barr’ (earth) means a safe place as opposed to the sea which is not safe. When you are let off by a court you are ‘barri’.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2011.